PHOTOGRAPH – movie review

PHOTOGRAPH
Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ritesh Batra
Screenwriter: Ritesh Batra
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Sanya Malhotra, Vijay Raaz, Virendra Saxena, Farrukh Jaffar
Screened at: Soho House, NYC, 5/1/19
Opens: May 17, 2019

Photograph Movie Poster

If you’re disgusted by the present status of male-female relationships in the U.S., notably the custom of college students nowadays to abandon the practice of dating in favor of hooking up, and of every young person’s compulsion to text even when in the company of their friends and lovers, you’ll be delighted to see a throwback to the old days in looking at the relationship of two people in Mumbai. If you’re old enough in America, you’ll remember that dating was never casual in the 1950s but marked by curfews of women in college and a dress code that featured more formal attire that is customary today. This is not to say that we should adapt the matchmaking and dating practices in India and so much of the world outside the West, but take a look at what goes on in Ritesh Batra’s “Photograph.” You’ll go to this movie with high expectations if you loved Batra’s film “The Lunchbox”—which emerged from the custom of delivering lunch boxes to workers at mid-day, the drama coming from a misdirected lunch which leads to a correspondence between a widower and an unhappily married woman.

“Photograph,” which juggles differences of caste, religion, class, and age but nonetheless does not try to uproot the custom of matchmaking in India, is a delightful look at an unusual dating scene. A man approaching middle age, seemingly a confirmed bachelor, meets cute a younger woman of a higher, more educated class. Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqi), who barely scrapes by taking pictures with a Nikon at Mumbai’s famous Gateway of India, lives in a cramped, communal setting with other low-level workers. Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), an introverted young woman who never laughs, only occasionally smiles, is lightly pressured by her solidly middle-class family to match up with guys. She is perfectly willing to do so to please her folks, but one day, as she is strolling around the famous Gateway of India, she agrees to be photographed by Rafi. Summoned elsewhere, she runs off without paying him leaving him with her picture. It so happens that gossip is spreading among Rafi’s pals that Rafi’s grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar), upset that she may never become a great grandmother, has stopped taking her meds. He jumps at the bait, invites the elderly woman to meet him in Mumbai, noting that he would like to introduce her to his fiancé. Fiancé? No such luck. Rafi asks Miloni to play the part, changing her name to Noorie for the role, and she surprisingly agrees, perhaps from a sense of adventure which she does not get from her classes in accounting.

Your heart knows things that your mind can’t explain, the only possible reason for the growing attraction between a shy, introverted girl and a confirmed bachelor. They go on a few dates, not touching each other until Dadi, taking a picture, asks him stand closer to her and to put his arm around her, asking her for good measure to smile. The grandmother may be getting wise to the scam, warning Rafi that she is not the girl for him. “She is not our religion,” having heard a made-up story by Miloni that her parents both died when the walls of a mosque caved in on them.

To illustrate class differences most graphically, director Batra shows Miloni jumping from her seat during a movie date, while her Rafi calms her that “it’s only a rat that crossed by your seat.” Batra takes what could have embraced screwball comedy, transcending the genre in laying out an ultimately sad, but meaningful slice of Mumbai life. In Gujarati and Hindi with the usual faded-white subtitles that are difficult to read against light contrasts.

110 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

 

HOTEL MUMBAI – movie review

HOTEL MUMBAI
Bleecker Street/ Shiv Hans Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Anthony Maras
Screenwriter: John Colee & Anthony Mars
Cast: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 3/6/19
Opens: March 22, 2019

If you don’t fancy biting your nails down to your cuticles, you may not want to venture forth to “Hotel Mumbai.” While there are no back-stories to speak of in this dramatic treatment of a terrible, mindless attack in 2008, the action scenes look authentic, the entire cast are game, the faces exude fear, and best of all the archival films from 2008 that editor Peter McNulty snap in at key points in the narrative look at though they are a seamless part of the action. While the Muslim jihadists from Pakistan, some of whom sneaked into Mumbai by small boat, coordinated an attack on several points in India’s largest city, Anthony Maras centered the action on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a world famous spot of pure luxury in a mostly poverty-stricken country.

Director Maras, whose 2011 short “The Palace” covered military action by Turkish forces in Cyprus in 1974, and whose “Azadi” in 2005 follows the plight of an Afghan schoolteacher and his asthmatic son who escape their oppressive Taliban homeland in search of a new life in Australia, is obviously in his métier with “Hotel Mumbai.” Outdoor scenes on the sidewalk around the Taj Hotel are filmed on location, though the action taking place inside the hotel is filmed on a set in South Australia. (The team stayed at the International Hotel in Adelaide.)

Perhaps what Maras and co-writer John Colee want to emphasize thematically is the way that the heroes among the hotel staff—people who have been trained to consider all guests as gods—mostly stayed put to help those on the premises to avoid being shot by the young Pakistan men who carry their destructive automatic weapons. By contrast, the local police force despite their bravery in confronting the thugs are sporting nothing more potent than simple pistols, yet they rise to the occasion, entering the premises in search of the mass murderers. During a considerable part of the story, Maras’s cinematographer, Nick Remy Matthews turns the screen into a shooting gallery, as the jihadists hunt down every guest, even spending considerable time to target specific people, namely high profile Americans. Of course some in the cast are elevated by their individual heroism, including chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher), Arjun (Dev Patel), a Sikh whose turban freaks out one of the guests, David (handsome Armie Hammer) and his wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) whose principal aim is to protect their new baby. Jason Isaacs as Vasili is with the Russian special forces, turning in a dramatic move near the conclusion when he is tied up, refusing to show the slightest cowardice by spitting on the jihadist who has the power to maim and kill him on the spot.

Much of the action is handed to those playing the jihadists, who to a man are willing to die and become martyred for Allah. None expect to get away alive from the action, particularly when the Indian special forces, the only unit capable of ending the war, had to transport themselves from New Delhi, eight hundred miles from the action. The assailants—young men who could not be more than twenty-five years of age and played by Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Yash Trivedi and Gaurav Paswala, casually make the rounds shooting straight ahead, hitting people in the back as they try to flee, even firing straight down to kill those on a floor below. One act of heroism aside from the general help given to the guests by members of the hotel staff finds two receiptionists from the Taj asked at gunpoint to call one of the rooms to get guests to open the doors. When they refuse, they are summarily executed.

More sophisticated moviegoers will want more than a re-creation of the events, however artistically executed. Are the principal characters merely of two dimensions, set up to represent in turn a father eager to save his wife and child, a degraded Russian opting to ask two young women to be sent to his room, a head chef serving as the chief of the rescue team? Perhaps there was little time for this since much action has to be covered, giving the movie audience the real feeling of what it means to be literally afraid for your life when you figure that the chances are that this is your last day on earth.

123 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – B+

THE WEDDING GUEST – movie review

THE WEDDING GUEST
IFC Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 2/27/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

The Wedding Guest Movie Poster

“I’ve got a confession to make,” says kidnapper Jay (Dev Patel) to his kidnapee, Samira (Radhika Apte). “I can’t swim.” “No matter,” replies Samira, “I’ll teach you.” This is about the level of dialogue to expect throughout “The Wedding Guest,” a movie that does not do credit to its writer-director, Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom, whose superb fare includes “24 Hour Party People,” (which brings Manchester’s music to the world), “Welcome to Sarajevo” (during the Bosnian war a journalist takes a kid from an orphanage back to England), and “Code 46” (a romance is doomed by genetic incompatibility), now is at the helm of a thriller with banal dialogue throughout. Actors have not much to do, and a pair of leads’ slow-burning romance never catches fire. What’s more there is little backstory to the Jay and Samira. We know nothing about how British citizen Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) found out that he could hire Jay to kidnap his girlfriend from Pakistan, where she is about to be wed against her will in an arranged marriage. If you know about Pakistani culture, you realize that a woman cannot refuse to marry her parents’ choice lest she be killed, as a refusal would dishonor the family.

This is why when Samira is kidnapped in the dead of night by Jay, she is both frightened and elated. At the same time that she is bound, gagged, and hooded by the abductor, she knows that she has been saved from what would probably be a frightful life, though when thrown into the trunk of his car, she has other thoughts about trusting the kidnapper.

Jay may or may not be a professional criminal with a major in abduction, but he’s in it strictly for the money that has been promised by Deepesh. Yet when a hunk like Jay gets to spend time with Samira, who slowly gets to trust him, you expect a hot romance to follow before she is turned over to the boyfriend. The first flirtatious steps are taken—by her—but despite her beauty, Jay seems reluctant to deal with her other than as his ticket to a fat payment. For her part, Samira’s feelings for Deepesh are not on the up-and-up. She, who at one point is called a “snake” by the guy who dished out thousands of dollars to rescue her, may have been correct about the lass. After some twists and turns in the script, we see that nobody is what he or she seems and everybody is out for something below the surface.

Given the absence of chemistry throughout, we wonder what the picture has to offer. Look then to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens to provide some awards-worthy photography in various locations in India, ranging from a look at fleabag hotels right up to Delhi’s majestic Taj Mahal digs. Filmed in Delhi, Goa, Jaipur and most impressively Amritsar where we get a shot of the temples that jut out in the holy city of the Sikh people, we have a view of both tourist India and what our president calls a sh*hole—the endless traffic of bikes and cars, the honking that fills the air, the shady dealers in forged passports, and one establishment jewelry store that cannot buy a diamond because it would not find a buyer for the $100,000 stone. When the Oscar ceremony takes place Feb. 2, 2020 and the 5,000 or so voters remember “The Wedding Guest,” be ready this picture to go to the top of the class in cinematography. Yet the movie fails to deliver passion or wit or thrills.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – C+
Technical – B
Overall – C+

BEYOND THE CLOUDS – movie review

BEYOND THE CLOUDS

Zee Studios International
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Majid Majidi
Screenwriter:  Majid Mafiji, Mehran Kashani
Cast:  Ishaan Khatter, Malavika Monanan, Gautam Ghose, GV Sharada, Dhwani Rajesh, Amruta Santosh Thakur, Shivan Puj
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/8/18
Opens: April 20, 2018
Beyond The Clouds Poster
Celebrated Iranian director Majid Majidi invites us to a tale that could serve as a fable, pitting good against evil, redemption against corruption, light against darkness, ultimately the glow of the moon against limitless darkness. Majidi, whose “Barat” focuses on a girl who like an Iranian Yentl disguises herself as a man in a Tehran construction site and “Children of Heaven” about a boy who loses his sister’s shoes and ventures to find a pair, this time tells an epic, Dickensian story in a Mumbai slum.  This is hardly the place that rich tourists seek out while preparing to move on to Agra and the Taj.  At its center, Amir (Ishaan Katter), a spirited young man who serves as a drug courier cycling around the neighborhood to deliver the goods, will soon find that he endures a series of events that will both make use of his restless energy and at the same time allow him to struggle against the hardships that are the fate of many of his neighbors in a typical shantytown.

Just as he finds himself heading deeper into trouble, his sister Tara (Malavika Monanan), defends herself against her boss Akshi (Goutam Ghose) who, having advanced money to Tara to allow her a nice apartment now thinks he owns her.  Struggling to avoid being raped by Akshi, Tara clubs him on the head with a stone and is imprisoned.  Her fate rests on whether Akshi, now immobile in a hospital, lives or dies.  If he dies, Tara faces life imprisonment without a trial, and the jail shown here is not designed as a copy of any penitentiary in Norway.  Because of his sister’s situation, Amir must care for the man he hates, hoping that Akshi will survive.  During his stay at the hospital, he meets the man’s mother and his two lovely grandchildren.  When Amir is not caught up with getting the man medicine, even sleeping under his bed to be on the site should a crisis occur, he is frantically trying to get his sister released from prison, even thinking of selling the man’s ten-year-old daughter into prostitution.

Melodramatic runs break up the dialogue, as the curly-haired Amir bolts in an opening scene through a Mumbai market to escape the two police who are making a drug bust, and later bounding forth to escape a couple of goons ordered by a brothel keeper to rough him up.

There’s little question that Amir is quite the performer, seemingly doing his own stunts, as in one episode he is not only beaten but pushed into a landscape of mud just off the Indian Ocean.  While Amir is redeeming himself by caring for Akshi and his two young daughters, Tara is bent on reforming herself by caring for a small boy whose mother is dying in the prison.

We’ve got to wonder whether the Tourist Board of India welcomes such a film, since it shows not only the hardscrabble life of people who have nothing but also the dramatic color of the marketplace including the saris sold on the street that are quite a contrast with the suits-and-ties uniforms of the West.  This is a well-acted piece of cinema backed up by A.R. Rahman’s score and will remind cinephiles not of the typical, light Indian pieces that end with dancing but of more serious films like “Slumdog Millionaire,” centered on a teen’s reflections of his life in a Mumbai shantytown.

Unrated.  120 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting –  A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

A SUITABLE GIRL – movie review

A SUITABLE GIRL

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Directors: Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra
Screenwriters:  Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra
Cast:  Ritu, Amrita, Dipti
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/12/18
Opens: March 30, 2018

I’m not going to ask you, dear reader, for your opinion on the upcoming president’s meeting with Kim or what you think of protective tariffs, but rather on a surprisingly controversial issue: should marriages be arranged, whether by parents or professional matchmakers, or should you be free to choose your own partners?  Remember that the Western way is fraught with problems.  Fifty percent of marriages here wind up in divorce courts, and the other half are having affairs.  And we’re not even that free.  Could you date and marry Jennifer Aniston?  Jennifer Lawrence?  No.  We consciously or not limit ourselves to people whose looks are as good or bad as ours and whose positions in society (occupation and wealth) are similar.  On the other hand Hasidic Jews, whose marriages are arranged, have a miniscule divorce rate and stay together enough to have five, seven, ten kids (they don’t watch TV), and then some.

Marriage for love is a recent cultural invention, and it has not been tried long enough to come to a firm conclusion as to its efficacy. Arranged marriages, historically the choice of monarchs and peasants (though not to each other) in much of the world and most of its centuries, have endured to this very day.

In India, the women look at the men’s bank accounts and the men go gung-ho for looks, which, going by the above formula, means that money marries money and the handsome marry pretty.  The intriguing documentary, “A Suitable Girl,” happily avoids the deadening template for documentaries, meaning that there are no talking heads interviews.  We who are viewing are likes flies on the wall, listening in to the tears and laughs, frustrations and fruitions, of families of three marriageable women, one of whom would never tolerate being a servant, cook and cleaner for her husband, nor would she ask permission of the guy if she wants to work.

Writer-directors Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra, in their first full-length film, hone in on three families, leaving it up to us to decide whether Indian women like the traditional way of finding mates or whether they thirst to break through for more freedom.  Khurana and Mundhra spend most of their time on Dipti and her family, perhaps because she is the least demanding of the trio (perhaps because she is the most desperate), or maybe because she laughs easily and is greatly attached to her parents.  She is, how-shall-we-say. a plus-size.  The matchmaker tells her that her weight is the principal reason her picture is rejected by prospective husbands, and this concerns her—but she does not succeed in cutting back on the ghee and samosas. While she combs through the ads in the newspaper, rejecting one fellow because he is vegetarian, she must also put up with face-to-face meetings with prospective men and listen to her parents’ questioning them as though they are brokers at a slave auction.

Amrita is the party-girl.  Though interested enough in marriage—largely because her society shuns those who are not—she will ultimately give up her life in the fiesta track to go along with society’s mandates.  She will get married but must look forward to a life of cooking and cleaning for her husband, even taking care of his parents as she is living with them.  (I’m familiar with a case close to home in which a Hispanic man is asked by his intended to join her in selecting a bed for their prospective home.  He insists that she will live with his parents.  She relents, they have a baby, and she in few months she’s fed up and moves out. There are subcultures within our own land of the free that have the same mores as those in India.)

There’s one hip woman in this doc.  Ritu, who lives in Mumbai—presumably with its big-city ideas of freedom—works for Ernst & Young. At age 25 she is more concerned about her career than marriage. She’ll be damned if she has to ask her new husband for permission to continue working, but things work out best for her as she and her man move to Dubai and will spend time there on the fast track.  Seema, her mother, does not see eye to eye with Ritu, and will miss her daughter even more than the other moms, but Ritu will have the kind of life she seeks even though the guy she met is through third-party arrangements. Yet, even she must deal with a self-hating Indian who wishes he were born in Europe where he could delay marriage and could select a bride freely, perhaps through his job.

By now we are aware that the feminist movement, now in its #MeToo phase, is active in the countries where women already have the most freedoms.  Women here do not have to wear tight-fitting saris unless they so choose, and as the old gag states, what they make for dinner is…reservations.

Unrated.  97 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+